Friday, June 29, 2012

Loo Injustice

Pan to age 2, school nursery, story time, sitting on a durrie and... Ajaz pooped in his pants. The first tummy-tickling joke of my life that I told and retold at home for centuries. Potty jokes flowed easily but answering nature’s call as we grew out of our cotton bloomers was pissing off. Every time I stepped out of the house, the ‘did you go?’ came before the ta-ta. And if you lied and left, you could bring such shame! From having to enter a perfect stranger’s home to ask if you could ‘do bathroom’, to finding a really leafy bush next to a wall and heartbreaking stuff like forfeiting that Coca Cola for which you came in the first place. Shopping trips, outings had to be timed according to the weakest (leakiest?) link’s bladder control. One ‘I have to go’ meant end of trip.

Then came Sulabh. It worked at the psychological level alone. As long as there was a Sulabh toilet somewhere one didn’t have pinkie problems. Soon Malls toad-stool-ed and solved forever the problem of where to dump the apple juice.  

If you’re among the vast majority who on checking into a new hotel must first check out the bathroom, that is, standing precisely as far as it allows you to stand and tip-toe to super stretch your arm so it can lightly touch the ‘shower panel’ and gently tap visible and invisible buttons, knobs, bulges and bumps all the time fearing the onslaught of a sudden scalding hot or melted icicle deluge, you will understand her predicament. 

The uniformed attendant’s antennae caught her on sight. This past-middle age woman entering the washroom at BIAL (Bengaluru International Airport Ltd.) wearing a traditional ghagra, choli, her head covered with an odhini. ‘Sit on the seat,’ the attendant hollered from the other end, above heads crowding the limited space. The woman said she only needed to pee. ‘SIT on the seat!’ the attendant was firm. In her anxiety, the woman left the door ajar. She lifted her voluminous skirt, faced the seat, and wondered, then she turned, her back to the seat, and wondered, finally, totally at sea about how to do it ‘sitting on it’, she left without relieving herself. Pee in your pants all!

Are the Eastern style squat toilets that the whole country used not so long ago suddenly so uncool that they cannot be installed in a couple of cubicles at public ‘conveniences’? Is it better to allow a major part of the population such humiliation, distress and watch them make puddles on the roadsides? We’re modernizing, opening up -  people still walk up on escalators going down, women in sarees frolic in swimming pools, international pizza chains serve peet-ja do pyaza nicely ‘hand-eled’ by their local staff. So even though many a with-it women think it is a crap idea, some mirror polished malls in the city have graphical illustrations inside the facilities on how a commode should be used by women. And then, when we’ve got them all to learn how to sit on it to pee, we will begin the next lesson of how women must not sit-sit on a public toilet seat.

The NY Times tells us that apparently, the Right to Pee movement in Mumbai has activists demanding “that the local government stop charging women to urinate, build more toilets, keep them clean, provide sanitary napkins and a trash can, and hire female attendants.”

In case, you didn’t know already, a large population don’t have toilets in their homes and they use the great Indian outdoors or public toilets on a regular, that is, daily basis. 

This movement seems like such a dream, really. I go back to BIAL because it is such a bladder-bursting distance away from town. It showcases its features ‘runways, taxiways, apron, , fuel farm, airport fire service, aircraft maintenance facilities, access roads, car parking...’ Where’s Number 1? I’m asking, da. I need to pee. Where’s the washroom? Restroom...toilet, bathroom...? Mujhe bathroom karna hai! swalpa guide maadi, dhanyawaadagalu,... I pour out all my Kannada.

Once you find the place, you’re confronted with the Rs 2/- and Re 1/- trade. The latter for the short business. But now who will time you? How can they be sure that you have not deceived them? Shit happens. So don’t mess, just pay up Rs 2 and do whatever. The loo-mafia ‘manning’ the place ensures that you don’t do it anyway - there is no running water, soap, toilet paper and they keep the better part of the loo cordoned off so they don’t have to maintain it. This happens at the country’s top international airport. 

When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go! So one needs to know how to ask for the small room. That was my single-pronged objective in learning Kannada. 

Every day we were promised that we’d be taught everyday, useful phases. What can be more ‘everyday’ or ‘useful’ than taking a leak, tell me? From namma, nannu we jumped straight to ‘I have appendicitis problem’. Ondu, yerudu, mooru,... I could manage the figures with my fingers but how to tell with gestures, expression or mime that I needed to go?  I waited each day for them to tell me just this, how to ask in Kannada, where the bathroom is. But they discussed, ‘Today the water pressure in the tap is low’. I waited for other pressures. Then one day we almost came to it, ‘How much distance to go - Yestu doora hoghabheku?’ But their destination wasn’t the pit stop. On the twenty ninth day, while discussing root words – snan, dayamadi, namaskara, swalpa... I could hold it no longer and burst out ‘shauchalaya!’ Whatta relief!


  1. Vandana11:04 PM

    Interesting! Btw, the Eastern squat position is the natural purging position and also healthier!!!

  2. yes, once the western world discovers that, we'll readily 'learn; from them again :) thank you, Vandu :)

  3. this is the most hilarious (and also the most useful/relevant) piece i've read in a long while. may the pees be upon the authorities of the BIAL.

  4. Thanks so much, Thinko! see how the anger dissolves into laughs? always! :)